Air Force addresses concerns of former air base contamination, explains next steps in cleanup process

The cleanup will follow a six-step process. Currently, the air force is on step three.
The cleanup will follow a six-step process. Currently, the air force is on step three.(wluc)
Published: Apr. 25, 2023 at 4:14 PM EDT
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K.I. SAWYER, Mich. (WLUC) - Concerns are still circulating among Marquette County residents about water contaminants at the former K.I. Sawyer Air Force Base.

In 2021 the former air force base was added to the filthy fifty act. The legislation places 50 former military bases with high levels of PFAS contamination as priorities in cleanup.

Some have taken to Facebook groups to share information regarding the contamination. Among those main concerns is the presence of PFAS, jet fuel and a degreaser called TCE.

PFAS are a group of compounds that are in many household items, but toxic in if ingested in high doses.

The air force used firefighting foam which contained PFAS chemicals. K.I Sawyer is one of the two highest contaminated US Air Force bases in Michigan, and among the top five nationally.

Michael Hye lived in K.I. Sawyer when he was a child in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He developed a rare disease that affects his legs and believes PFAS exposure is to blame.

Although he moved away, Hye is dedicated to the cleanup of the site and says his main concern is transparency.

“Overall, if there is an issue, the air force is accountable and should be held accountable for the toxic cleanup that is not being talked about and they should be more openly wanting to talk about it than what has been going on,” Hye said. “People have the right to know what they have been exposed to and what is making them sick.”

The air force completed an investigation in 2016 and found 13 sites at the base that are contaminated. A representative with the air force says it has already started working on the cleanup.

“We have done quite a bit of cleanup and it was mostly fuel that had spilled into the soil and groundwater and a solvent called trichloroethylene. It is used as a degreased and solvent,” US Air Force Restoration Program Manager Kay Grosinske said.

Now, Grosinske says the air force is working through a six-step plan.

“As of last year, we are in the third phase, the remedial investigation phase,” Grosinske said. “We are in the second year of that. We are getting another infusion of money. It won’t be a two-year process. It will be a multi-year process.”

Another concern raised by Hye and others in his social media group is the safety of drinking water even now.

The air force monitored 28 private wells at homes around KI Sawyer in 2020. Of those, the air force says only one was found to contain PFAS and the military installed a filtration system to clean it. In June of 2020, it then resampled the water and no PFAS contamination was discovered.

The wells at K.I. Sawyer are owned and operated by the Marquette County/K.I. Sawyer Water Department.

In addition, Marquette Sawyer Regional Airport Manager Duane Duray says the airport has taken its own steps to reduce contamination risks.

“Over the last handful of years, we have eliminated testing of our PFAS components or PFAS compounds for our aircraft rescue and firefighting apparatuses,” Duray said. “We do non-dispensing testing so that we can calibrate our equipment without having to dispense any of our A-FFF foam.”

Duray says the airport is in continuous conversation with the air force.

“The airport and the air force work hand-in-hand,” Duray said. “We are trying to address these concerns and I believe that working in these defined steps we are doing the best that we can, and we have the best interest of our residents and environment.”

Grosinske says she is unsure how long the entire cleanup process will take because of obstacles involving access to private property.

We will continue to follow updates on the cleanup process as they continue.